Saturday, October 23, 2010

TIME: Alzheimer's Unlocked

After years of research and study, the Alzheimer's disease continues to be shrouded in fear and mystery.We have yet to fully comprehend the extent of damage and loss that this disease causes ,over all of us, not just those who are the sufferers. Trial upon trial of treatments and vaccines have proved innefective in fighting this disease and have just made things worse for the test subjects. It is classsified as a degenerative brain condition that causes loss of memory and dementia. Over the long term death is imminent.

As it has been repeated by countless scientists for many generations: There is no cure. Although therapies that supposedly battle the condition and reverse it over time do exist, they are not effective in any way. All they can do at most is delay the the onset of memory loss. There isn't even a definitive test for Alzheimer's.

But all that is about to change, at least according to the neurobiologists that are studying the disease at this very moment. This mental condition was thought, until recently to be caused by the build-up of protein-based plaques in the brain called amyloid. Cellular debris such as dead or dying neurons can also form leading to impaired neurological transmissions and reduced brain activity. Agents, devised by doctors, have been produced in order to eliminate this plaque and prevent it from occuring ever again. Alas, the chemicals have been fraught with failure upon failure. It was concluded after many tests that the plaque was not in fact the only cause of Alzheimer's. Some other factor or factors must be involved as well.

"We spend $5.6 billion a year funding cancer studies, $1 billion a year heart disease ... and $500 million to study Alzheimer's" Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic for Alzheimer research.
In order to properly study Alzheimer we must focus upon the genes and their irregularity. If the particular gene that codes for Alzheimer can be isolated and studied then a much humanity will have a much better chance of stopping this essence-ridding disease. A potential protein that codes for a gene is apolipoprotein E which in certain forms may promote the formation of amyloid. Another possible treatment would be preventing the breakind down of the protein tau, which stabilizes the neuron and the microtubules within. The bottom line is that for now, Alzheimer may be diagnosed before the first symptoms have even made themselves visible.

A large amount of the article was not as expected, dedicated to the science behind the disease, but rather to the many people who are experiencing it at this precise moment. I find it touching and moving that such people struggle to defy nature and win the struggle for their minds. Included in my article are the many accounts of Alzheimer sufferers.

What I found most definitive about this paper was that according to many studies, a larger number of people is affected by Alzheimer than by cancer. Surely that cannot be true. I will check this theory and report back next time.

UPDATE: Just discovered that in fact this theory is correct. I'm pretty much flabbergasted to tell the truth. It is however only by an extremely small margin (cancer - 24 million recorded cases and Alzheimer - 26 million on average),9171,2025638,00.html,9171,2025637,00.html

Saturday, October 16, 2010

International Herald Tribune: Google Car that Drives Itself through Traffic

Quite recently my father has been collecting some regular black and white newspapers to read. Most of them are international since my father travels a lot. A lot of the time I just glance through them but a particular article in the Herald Tribune (international version of the New York Times) caught my eye. Google was the word that I saw first. Thinking it would be some other mad world-wide web invention such as Chrome I was about to move on. That's when I read the first word: car. I was astounded that I eagerly read on. And this article was nothing short of eye-opening and amazing. A vehicle that drives itself through traffic... Who would have thought that Google could come up with something like that!

On second thoughts, I've always thought of Google as the new-age entrepreneur, trying to decipher life's great mysteries and help any bystander along the way. Although these autonomous cars are years from mass production (at least 10) it does not deny the fact that the company is thinking ahead and expanding into new territories. A Toyota Prius made a journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles through the torrential traffic virtually unaided by any human source. The scientific reason for this achievement is artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver.

According to Google engineers robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated. It does seem like a dream come true doesn't it? Especially for truck drivers I bet. Now you can really go to the back seat to make yourself a sandwich. Of course supposedly there must always be someone behind the wheel in case of an unexpected detour (the original test encountered a biker running a red light). But this was one occasion on a half an hour test drive so there is no cause for worry.

“Can we text twice as much while driving, without the guilt?” Dr. Thrun (43-year-old director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a Google engineer and the co-inventor of the Street View mapping service. ) said in a recent talk. “Yes, we can, if only cars will drive themselves.” 
The car knows the speed limit, roads and everything else geographical from the GPS system and its driving mode can even be programmed from aggressive (more likely to go first) or cautious (more likely to yield the road to another car). I wonder who will really choose the cautious personality. I don't think there are many such people.

The most problematic thing about this project is driving laws. Who will be liable in case of an accident: the driver or the car? Although this particular test drive was considered legal because there was still a driver behind the wheel, in the future some of these laws may have to change. There is even the farther-off prospect of cars that do not need anyone behind the wheel. That would allow the cars to be summoned electronically, so that people could share them.

Although the situation is not perfect as with any situation Google does have an opportunity to shine once again. If it decides to further develop this technology and then afterwards sell it as a prototype to any car manufacturer it will profit immensely. Such was the case with the Android operating system for cell phones.
Whatever the circumstances will be Google is sure to perform the best it can and "drive" us all to another new technological era.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How it Works: Titan - Saturn's Largest Moon

Well here I am once again bringing you the finest news and views from the world of science magazines. I must admit that maintaining this blog to its standards has been quite a challenge for me. As I am now knee deep in my A level year (I am doing A2 Biology, Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Environmental Management if anyone's interested) every single day I find myself being flooded with work. Although I know that this is just the beginning of hardship. However, I am wasting your time here so, on with the show!

As a promise to myself, I try not to be biased or overexcited about any news I hear. Take for the example, the swine flu 'epidemic'. Everyone started panicking about whether or not they would receive their shots and some even started wearing hospital masks wherever they went. Before jumping to conclusions I analyzed the data and concluded that it was all an elaborate scheme made by pharmaceutical companies in order to make a giant profit for no expense whatsoever. It turned I was right although no government has admitted it to be true, since they themselves were fooled in this master plan. I find myself intrigued by what the world media will think of next in order to fuel consumption of a particular product or scare innocent watchers.

That is why I have decided to adequately describe Saturn's moon, Titan, not as the mythical planet X but as a celestial body similar in composition and appearance to Earth. I has clouds in its atmosphere that produce rain, large lakes of water at its poles, wind patterns, volcanoes and even plate tectonics. This seems like good news but in the end it does not matter. Titan is unfortunately to far away from the Sun and has a quite dense atmosphere so only 1% of sunshine makes it through. This leads to an average temperature of about -179ÂșC. Not the Caribbean climate we were looking for I'm afraid. Also, Titan's would-be rain is actually not composed of water but of methane which scorches out ridges, dunes and valleys on its surface.

Several missions have been recorded to Titan mostly fly-bys by probes and small reconnaissance spacecraft. A joint NASA/ESA mission has been proposed to launch in 2018. During this mission two different types of probes would land on Titan and analyze more thoroughly its atmosphere and land.

Despite all its flaws, Titan does show promise to one thing. A similar planet to Earth is somewhere out there. We just have to find it. It may take time, but the human race has persevered in the past and it will in the future as well.